Even with a cathartic NBA title in hand, Kawhi Leonard was never going to escape free-agency speculation once the Toronto Raptors’ season ended.
Between the Raptors’ postseason run and Kevin Durant likely being out for next season with an Achilles tendon rupture, the 2019 NBA Finals MVP might suddenly be the most sought-after free agent on the market. Not many players leave franchises they carried to a title, but Leonard is not like most players.
So you can imagine how much speculation just a single use of the word “they” triggered as the champagne was still drying in the Raptors’ locker room.
A since-deleted tweet from SB Nation’s Kristian Winfield:
Kawhi Leonard says bringing Toronto their first championship is the most satisfying part of the experience:
“This is something they can build on.”
That one pronoun was immediately met with eye emojis, immediate conclusions and jokes on Twitter. Clearly, Leonard is leaving. Unless he isn’t.
Put more distance with that "they" than a James Harden stepback https://t.co/Voz3e8WhEo
— Zito (@_Zeets) June 14, 2019
Haha, nevermind. "They." Just kidding too btw. https://t.co/h3dDqWwEQT
— Michael C. Wright (@mikecwright) June 14, 2019
They? Uh oh it’s starting. https://t.co/TBq70Xw1eX
— Anthony F. Irwin (@AnthonyIrwinLA) June 14, 2019
Winfield later clarified that Leonard didn’t exactly say “they” in the way of the initial tweet, but the change to “them” probably holds a similar meaning. Winfield ended up deleting the original tweet.
The full quote is actually: "It's just something that the Raptors could build on. That we all could build on. And that was my goal. I wanted to get them to the Finals their first year. That was all our goal."
— Kristian Winfield (@Krisplashed) June 14, 2019
Even if the initial quote was accurate, it probably wouldn’t have been Leonard leaving a subtle trail of bread crumbs about his free-agency intentions. Lord knows Leonard didn’t make his intentions subtle last year when he left the San Antonio Spurs.
Instead, the wave of speculation is just another indication of how thirsty the basketball world is for indications of where this year’s massive free-agent class is going.
Whatever was said, it should take a lot more than an odd pronoun in a series of emotional interviews to trigger real alarms that Leonard is leaving Toronto. And it’s going to take even more than that for Raptors fans to ever see Leonard in a bad light, whether he leaves or not.
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